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No Stadium

I haven't blogged on this yet, but Jim Henley has two nice posts about the apparently collapsing deal to bring the Expos Nationals to Washington by means of a lavish taxpayer-financed stadium. Taxpayer giveaways to sports franchises are almost always a bad deal. It's a particularly bad deal, however, for the District of Columbia which has a combination of a large number of very real problems at least some of which could be sufficiently ameliorated by committed large sums of money to something other than baseball and a quite robust series of neighborhood revivals anyway. An effort at this point to engage in centrally directed neighborhood revitalization would almost certainly work, if at all, simply by diverting development away from its current foci (broadly speaking, flowing east from Adams Morgan and north from Chinatown).

The idea that a poor, but developing city should spend a vast some of money on an entertainment project for the affluent residents of the city's suburbs is simply insane. What DC really needs is to fix its school system, but that would be hard. Easier, however, would be increasing the frequency of Metro cars on the non-Red lines, a step that would also be connected to expanded economic development in a considerably clearer way than a baseball stadium. At the end of the day, MLB can't afford to keep the Expos in Montréal, and Greater Washington is the logical place to put them. With any luck, some suckers in Northern Virginia will shell out the money for a stadium, and we districters can hop on a train or turn on our TVs to go see them.

December 16, 2004 | Permalink


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Matthew Yglesias: I haven't blogged on this yet, but Jim Henley has two nice posts about the apparently collapsing deal to bring the Expos Nationals to Washington by means of a lavish taxpayer-financed stadium. Taxpayer giveaways to sports franchises a... [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 18, 2004 9:20:31 PM


I never did understand why NoVa didn't get the stadium. It's obviously farther from Baltimore, so that's a plus for Angelos. And NoVa doesn't have the massive problems that the District has. And it's been clear for a while that NoVa doesn't mind taxing itself to pay for stuff!

So put the stadium in Fairfax somewhere.

(PS - it's "sum of money" not "some of money". Sheesh.)

Posted by: Al | Dec 16, 2004 12:19:43 AM

Yeah, but a downtown ballpark would be so cool.

(Northern Virginia, meanwhile, is a shithole.)

Posted by: JP | Dec 16, 2004 12:33:57 AM

Doesn't the city already spend more per capita on its students than anywhere else? I agree fixing the schools problem is difficult, but I don't think spending more money on them would help. Regardless, there isn't going to be any extra money to throw around, so I guess they'll keep spending at current levels. Which is working quite well.

Posted by: mwl | Dec 16, 2004 12:39:00 AM


Why didn't they go with The Senators? That seriously makes me wanna punch someone in the grill.

Posted by: kobe | Dec 16, 2004 12:39:36 AM

MLB just needs to fold the Expos and distribute them. Canadians don't like baseball, and that's the bottom line. For sure though, you guys have the Orioles already, and you couldn't support another team, so you don't deserve shit. Maybe Charlotte. Anyway, I'd vote for doling out Prozac to the bums, if I lived there. DC has the angriest bums in the country.

Posted by: spacetoast | Dec 16, 2004 12:46:00 AM

The Texas Rangers own the rights to the name Senators

Posted by: heh | Dec 16, 2004 12:59:07 AM

Just as real estate prices keep going up, with no real good reason to do so, so do cities keep building new stadiums and arenas for professional sports teams with no real good reason to do so. The reason for both is the "greater fool process". You pay an absurd price for a house, knowing it isn't worth it, but you know that there will be a greater fool than you who will take if off your hands at a still higher price later. And, cities build stadiums and arenas because there will always be a greater fool of a city willing to do so if they don't, and thus they will lose their beloved team. There doesn't seem to be a solution to that process in either application.

Posted by: Vaughn Hopkins | Dec 16, 2004 1:05:12 AM

A successful MLB team be a huge draw for bringing business to the community. Our Anaheim Angels (2002 World Champs!)have been a boon to the entire county. A state-of-the-art stadium is a substantial investment, though. Quite substantial. What a disappointment for DC baseball fans.

Posted by: Debi | Dec 16, 2004 1:48:41 AM

My Detroit Tigers paid for their own new stadium. Why can't the Exponationals do likewise?

Posted by: rea | Dec 16, 2004 6:07:14 AM

"Canadians don't like baseball, and that's the bottom line."

I think Canadian fans have yet to recover from the '94 baseball strike. The Expos were hot and in first place when the strike happened and that wiped out their best season in many years. They were never the same team since, in attendance especially. Same for the Blue Jays. Pre-strike they averaged over 50,000 fans a game, after that it's been in decline, now at 23,000 a game. That's still better than the thousand or so that showed up at Expos game the past few years. Canadians are crazy about their sports, but they don't take kindly to being jerked around by spoiled players and owners. I wonder what will happen to NHL attendance after this strike?

As for the NoVA stadium, bad idea IMHO. As a resident of Fairfax County, I will not want to see my tax dollars spent on a stadium. Let the team pay for it since they'll get all the profits.

Posted by: DC Loser | Dec 16, 2004 7:55:32 AM

According to an article I read in the Post a few weeks ago, they can't actually increase the number of trains on the blue and orange lines because the tunnel will only fit one train at a time. Not one train in either direction, one train full stop. Deliberate design decision at the time the system was built to save money.

Posted by: william | Dec 16, 2004 7:55:52 AM

To bring the team to DC, give Bush a financial stake, with no management responsibilities, in it.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Dec 16, 2004 9:07:32 AM

I think DC council made the right call. Screw using taxpayer money to finance a $500-600 million sports arena that will mainly benefit the owners. I always thought the Camden Yards deal, while a nice enough stadium, was a similar shill. Keep that thing out of NoVa, I don't need my taxes going up any more and the traffic already sucks enough.

Posted by: J. | Dec 16, 2004 9:19:47 AM

I agree with MY completely on this. The truly entertaining aspect of the debate came, of course, from Fox News, which ran a segment last night chastizing local DC politicians for depriving the city once again of a baseball franchise. The little fact that MLB was asking for public financing of the stadium was presented as a kind of footnote in the piece. Meanwhile, man on the street interviews with disappointed twenty-something white guys provided the bulk of analysis.

So once again we see a demonstration of conservative faith in the free market.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Dec 16, 2004 9:42:09 AM

The trouble with a NoVA stadium is that many Marylanders who would be happy to support a team in DC would never, ever support one based in Fairfax Co or points west.

Posted by: Andrew | Dec 16, 2004 10:11:27 AM

The irrefutable argument for a subsidized stadium is this: Symbolism demands it. So many other American cities have decided to fleece themselves building these things that it's only fair, right, and above all metaphorical that the nation's capital squander its money for 'development & jobs' as well.

The people of Washington NEED corporate skyboxes! Damn that elitist inside-the-beltway thinking!

Posted by: sglover | Dec 16, 2004 10:25:41 AM

The trouble with a NoVA stadium is that many Marylanders who would be happy to support a team in DC would never, ever support one based in Fairfax Co or points west.

But isn't this exactly the point - Angelos WANTS Marylanders who live between DC and Baltimore to choose the Orioles?

Now, perhaps baseball just doesn't care what Angelos wants anymore, I dunno. The owners did, after all, approve the DC stadium 29-1. So perhaps the Angelos objection is just a moot point now. But I thought that was always the big issue.

Posted by: Al | Dec 16, 2004 10:30:58 AM

I think it would be a huge mistake to put a stadium in N. Virginia if it's not on a Metro line. And apparently all the Metro accessible sites have been ruled out by local opposition.

I can only speak for myself, but I might go to a dozen games a year if I could take Metro, but wouldn't be willing to fight traffic to a suburban stadium more than once or twice a year. And I live in N. Virginia.

Posted by: wvmcl | Dec 16, 2004 10:46:29 AM

Matt, I agreed with your position until I actually looked at the details of the stadium financing deal, which was actually a very well-designed scheme.

The basic details are included in Boswell's rant:


The hook, which few Washingtonians seem to grasp, is that NO MONEY WHATSOEVER is coming from the city's general fund. The majority of the funding is coming from rent and a receipts surcharge at the ballpark. The rest is coming from a new tax on area businesses, most of whom appear to support the deal.

Basically, the stadium will be largely financed by people coming in from the suburbs to see the team, and by businesses that will profit from additional people coming in from the suburbs and spending money. It's structured as a TOURISM TAX.

Now, the idea of reopening bidding to bring in more private financing is actually a very good one. But the council made the deal contingent upon finding private financing. They reneged on the deal. No matter what you think about the deal, the absolute LAST thing DC needs is to restore its Marion Barry-era image as a city which refuses to play straight with investors.

And really, can anyone honestly claim that cleaning up and gentrifying a chunk of Southeast DC is a waste of public funds that wouldn't exist without baseball in the first place?

Andrew is right. A stadium in NoVa is a traffic nightmare waiting to happen, and few people in Maryland or the District would go to games or give a damn about the team. THAT would be a waste of tax dollars. A stadium on the Metro Line, in a part of the city that desperately needs a face lift, is a better deal.

Posted by: Violet | Dec 16, 2004 10:48:04 AM

Violet nailed it -- DC makes much more sense than NOVA because traffic congestion in the outer suburbs is already abyssmal, and it will be many years before an Orange line extension to Dulles is finally funded and built.

Anthony Williams should have been publicly flogged for making such an awful deal with MLB, but once the deal was done, Linda Cropp was way out of line to effectively rip it up.

My longer commentary on Cropp's beanball.

Posted by: Bragan | Dec 16, 2004 11:08:42 AM

Three cheers for Violet. You've hit it on the head.

The stadium money isn't fungible. If the money isn't spent on the stadium, it's not going to get spent on D.C.'s very-deserving-of-more-funding public libraries or even-more-deserving public schools. If the stadium isn't built, THE MONEY WON'T EXIST. Because there will be no tax on concessions, no tax on the top 11% of businesses, and no selling of the naming rights to a non-existant stadium.

Would the District be better off if we taxed the top 11% of businesses and used the profits to fund schools and libraries? Yes. Is anyone proposing such a thing? No. Nuking the stadium deal won't create a massive infusion of money into the city's coffers.

Posted by: Jeremy | Dec 16, 2004 11:12:49 AM

You also have to consider the issue of what makes a city a desirable place to live, attracting residents and investments. Arguable, if the Cubs had moved to the suburbs in the 1970s Wrigleyville would never have redeveloped, and Wrigleyville was the spark for a LOT of what has kept the City of Chicago alive as opposed to Cleveland, St. Louis, etc. The Cubs and the bar scene that went with the games were a big part of living in that area in the 80s. Now it is self-sustaining, but it wasn't then.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 16, 2004 11:18:07 AM

I know that for a metropolitan area, publicly-financed stadiums are a bad deal, and never bring in all that new-business-and-more-tax-revenue that boosters claim. But I wonder if it might actually work better in DC than some other places. Since DC has fixed boundaries, a deal that's a loser for the metro area as a whole might still be a winner for DC, by drawing more money from the suburbs (since obviously a lot of the people who will be buying tickets will be from MD and VA.)

(FYI, the reason the team didn't go to NoVa is that Virginia wasn't willing to give the kind of free-ride bonds that MLB demanded as part of the package.)

Posted by: Redshift | Dec 16, 2004 11:34:04 AM

I don't want to sound like a complete shill for sports stadium subsidization. Williams made what can be charitably described as a questionable decision to seek no money from baseball and no private financing.

But I'm not quite sure why anyone other than die-hard libertarians would turn up their noses at public funding for urban sports stadiums. I grew up in Indianapolis and saw with my own eyes the way the city's investment in building sports venues and luring the Colts paid off. Downtown Indy used to have tumbleweeds blowing through it on weekends. Now it's a lively urban center that puts most comparably-sized cities to shame. Compare it, say, to Norfolk, which also put in a downtown mall but has no major sports teams.

Now, Radley Balko bases his opposition on the libertarian notion that a city government should not tax business profits to invest in a redevelopment project/tourist attraction that is intended to improve the quality of life in the city, attract new businesses, and bring in potential new customers for the businesses being taxed.

And this is a reasonable position for Radley, because he's a libertarian whack job (albeit one hell of a smart guy.)

But liberals don't generally agree with this argument. We believe that it is appropriate to levy taxes and user fees, and use the revenue to fund projects that create growth and benefit the city as a whole. In fact, this is one of the key reasons why we have a city government in the first place, instead of just business and property-owner guilds acting in their own rational self-interest.

So, arguing with the specifics of this DC baseball deal is reasonable. It is, after all, a big and costly project that contains risk. Arguing with the concept of creating a tourist attraction for suburbanites rather than a more resident-oriented development project is also quite reasonable.

But rejecting the entire notion that the government should build public entertainment venues? How on earth does one get to that position from a modern liberal philosophical standpoint?

Posted by: Violet | Dec 16, 2004 11:50:20 AM

"The stadium money isn't fungible. If the money isn't spent on the stadium, it's not going to get spent on D.C.'s very-deserving-of-more-funding public libraries or even-more-deserving public schools. If the stadium isn't built, THE MONEY WON'T EXIST. Because there will be no tax on concessions, no tax on the top 11% of businesses, and no selling of the naming rights to a non-existant stadium."

Yes, the city *might* lose a revenue stream that *might* be used for more laudable purposes. Or, just as likely, that hypothetical money might end up -- who knows where? Meantime, the only people who will *certainly* gain from the deal are the already quite comfortable honchos of major league baseball. Let 'em do their own deal, with their own funds, without public guarantees. Free enterprise, baby.

And let's leave off with scary ghost-of-Marion-Barry stories, shall we? There's no dearth of construction going on in DC. I kinda doubt that investors are gonna quiver because the city said 'no' to a pig in a poke.....

Posted by: sglover | Dec 16, 2004 11:51:29 AM

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